Theater Review - Suzi Bass nominees react

The best in Atlanta's theater community to be honored in November

Earlier this month, the Suzi Bass awards nominees were announced, honoring the year's best in local theater. Named after the beloved Atlanta actress who was a mainstay of the scene until her death in 2002, the awards are now in their 11th year. Bearing the stamp of being "Suzi Recommended" is a badge of pride for local productions throughout the year.

The nominees represent Atlanta's diverse community well, including a variety of different theater companies and productions, both musicals and straight plays. The nominations were announced by the women of the Weird Sisters Theatre Project, and one of their group, Tiffany Porter, was also among the nominees, for Outstanding Featured Actress (Play) for The Whale. The Alliance Theatre received the most nominations (51), while Theatrical Outfit (24), Actor's Express (21), Aurora Theatre (20), and Serenbe Playhouse (11) all made strong showings.

To say 11-year-old Sarah Charles Lewis, who is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress (Musical) for Tuck Everlasting at the Alliance Theatre, is excited is one subtle way of putting it. "Oh my God! I'm so proud to be a part of this show and the Alliance Theatre. It feels like the whole show was a dream," she told CL. "It has to win. It deserves to win. I mean, it's going to Broadway!"

Actor's Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley was nominated for both Outstanding Lead Actor (Play) in The Whale, and Outstanding Direction (Musical) for Rent. "Being nominated for an acting Suzi comes as something of a surprise to me at this point in my life, particularly given that I focus so much of my creative energy toward directing instead of acting," Ashley says. "It really is special to be nominated for this production, which was a labor of love for all of us involved and an opportunity to tell Sam Hunter's extraordinary story of people yearning for connection and wholeness. The Whale is a celebration of the human heart's capacity to love, and it's nice to see the production honored by so many nominations across the board."

One actress receiving the most nods is Julissa Sabino (tied with Molly Coyne with three). Sabino is nominated for her performances in Rent, and the Alliance's James and the Giant Peach and The Lizard and El Sol. "I know we all say that it's rare to get an entire group of people in a cast or creative team who really gel, but in my experience in Atlanta theatre, it's not rare," she says. "Each one of those casts broke my heart to leave, they were just full of brilliant people, onstage and off."

Sabino's Rent castmate Austin Tijerina also received a nod for Outstanding Featured Actor (Musical). "I am absolutely shocked and thrilled to be nominated this year," Tijerina says. "Telling Angel's story was a huge challenge physically and mentally and I am so thankful to Freddie Ashley for having faith in me and pushing me out of my comfort zone."

Randi Garza was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress (Musical) in honor of her role as Eva Peron in Serenbe's production of Evita. "I am thrilled to be representing Evita and our wonderful cast and crew," Garza says.

Evita director Brian Clowdus, admittedly obsessed with his leading lady's performance, is similarly excited. "Evita was a cornerstone for Serenbe Playhouse with incredible national and local attention, and it was our largest box office to date," Clowdus says. "From Playbill to the Suzis, we are over the moon to be receiving all this recognition as we continue to think nationally but act locally."

Neal Ghant, currently onstage at the Alliance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was nominated for outstanding featured actor in a play for his work in Blues for an Alabama Sky, at the same company. Ghant, like several nominees, says his recognition is the result of a greater whole working together. "It's always nice to feel the energy, passion, and dedication in an ensemble like in Blues. From the direction to the acting, all involved were committed to success," Ghant says. "I'm just happy myself and others are recognized for that in whatever way the community sees fit."

The awards ceremony will take place on Mon., Nov. 2, at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center.

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